Anything But Bingo

Resources to enhance the daily life of people living with dementia

5 simple cards games for someone living with dementia

If there is a pack of cards to hand then there are a multitude of games to be played. Like jokes, I can never remember a card game when I need one so this post is in no way altruistic; it is a list that I know I will use myself. Adapt each games as you need to, if you have the luxury of an extra person encourage them to assist the player with dementia as much or as little as is necessary. Sometimes all that is required is a gentle but regular reminder of the rules or to keep an eye on whose turn it is.

If the person you are playing with has a poor sight you might want to invest in some large print playing cards or extra large playing cards.


If holding a bunch of cards has become difficult you can get attractive wooden card holders


Of course the most simple and well known game. You can play this with 2-multiple players. The dealer deals the entire pack of cards out face down between all the players. Then, starting with the player to the left of the dealer, and in turn, each person lays down the top card from their pile into a new pile (the discard pile) in the centre of the table. If the card being laid matches the card laid down by the previous player all players must say "Snap". The first person to say "snap" wins all the cards in the discard pile and play starts again. The winner is the player who collects all the cards.


Go Fish

The dealer deals all the cards.  If there are two or three players, each player is dealt seven cards. If there are more people taking part, each player is dealt five cards. The remaining cards are placed face down in a pile. This is the “fish pond.”

Each player sorts their cards into groups of the same number or suit (i.e. group of threes or group of kings), making sure not to show anyone. The person to the left of the dealer starts the game by asking any another player for cards that will match his hand. For example, if they have two threes, she will ask the other player for threes. If the other player has these cards, he must hand them over. The same person continues asking the same player for more cards until the player does not have the cards he wants. If the player does not have the right cards, he can tell the requester to “Go fish.” The requester then has to take one card from the “fish pond.” The player who told him to “Go fish” becomes the new requester.

Anyone who collects all four cards of a set (i.e. all four eights or all four Queens) puts them face down in front of him. The winner is the first person to have no single cards left, only complete sets. If two people run out of cards together, the player with the most sets wins the game.



This is a two player game. All cards are dealt to the two players and kept face down. Neither player must look at their cards. Both players turn over the top card of their piles and put them face up in the centre of the table, beside the other player’s card. Whoever has turned over the highest ranking card takes both cards and adds them to the bottom of his pile. This continues until two cards of the same value (i.e. two sevens) are put down together. The game is now in a state of “war.” To continue, both players take two new cards and put one face down on top of the card they have already placed in the middle and one face up. Whoever puts down the higher ranking face up card wins all six. The game is won by the player who collects all of the cards.


Beggar my Neighbour

Deal out all the cards between the two players.

Each player takes it in turns to turn one over from the top of their pile and put it on the table between them (as with snap!) If you turn over a Jack, Queen, King or Ace, the other player must put down more cards as follows:

Jack - one card
Queen - two cards
King - three cards
Ace - four cards

If no picture cards are turned over whilst this "payment" is being made, you collect all the cards from the table and put them at the bottom of your pile.
However, if a picture card WAS turned over, your opponent immediately stops their 'pay out' of cards, and YOU have to pay them by putting down one, two, three or four cards, according to the rank, as above.

The winner is the player who collects all the cards.

I would recommend printing / writing out the "payments" as a visual reminder during the game.


Pelmenism / Concentration / Match

Maybe not a card game in the truest sense of the word but even so, one worth mentioning. There are some nice, adult themed match games on the market, or if you are feeling creative you could make your own.


You place all the cards face down on the table and each playing takes a turn to turn over two cards. If they match the player keeps the matching pair. If the cards don't match the player must place the cards back down on the table in the same place. The aim of the game is to remember which cards your opponents turn over and where they are so that you can match pairs when it is your turn to play.

This game can be adapted to the short term memory impairment of the people playing by reducing the number of cards you use.


Enjoy playing!



Dementia - is there a place for children's toys?

Is it appropriate to give an adult, living with dementia, a child's toy to play with?



 My opinion is a resounding "yes". Should you also do this with care, sensitivity, forethought and in a person centred way? Of course. This is a sensitive subject for many people and one which I think I wil be returning to more than once

I first came across the concept of 'stage not age appropriate' from Teepa Snow, an American Dementia Care expert who has a refreshing approach to working and living with people who have dementia. There are also a heap of videos you can find on Youtube where she talks about her approach. 

The stages of dementia are loosly definable but are different in everyone and can involve all parts of the body and personallity. I really believe that pitching daily activity at the individual's own personal level,  what they can do, what they are finding pleasurable is the route to the most fun and fullfilling experiences. Think about what stage that person is at, and try not to worry so much about their age.

How does this work in practice?


Let's take jigsaw puzzles as an example. An individual with dementia may have once loved to do jigsaws; 1000 piece, back to front and upside down jigsaws. As their concentration skills, patience, memory and maybe even fine motor skills diminish these complex and demanding jigsaws may become unachieveable. So do you therefore take 'jigsaws' off the to-do list? Instead why not try easier puzzles. There are jigsaws available specifically designed for people with dementia, like this one (they will even personalise a jigsaw with your own photo!). I have used these particular jigsaws at work and the advantage of them is that the jigsaw is inset within a border of the photo so that you have clues for where to start straight away making it easier and less intimidating.

So far I don't think this is too controversial. Buying products aimed at the 'dementia market' makes them acceptable to most people.

If this size of jigsaw becomes too hard you can move on again. I have successfully used toddlers peg puzzles, like the one you see below with great results. I would usually begin by asking the person if they like the puzzle, the colours etc. Invariably I would get a reply about how they used to give the children one like it, or something similar. I might ask if they'd like to have a go, or "I wonder if we could do it?" This is usally enough to get us going. Sometimes you do get a negative reaction. One gentleman said rather gruffly "that's a children's toy". His tone of voice left me in no doubt that he didn't approve. Don't forget though .... it doesn't mean never. You can always try again another day.

Other ideas

Lego or the toddler version Duplo, Stickle bricks, Sewing cards, wooden sorting boxes, train set, Scalextric,



“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

elderly man playing with stickle bricks


If you are asking why I think this might be a sensitive subject then you are already with me on the stage / age appropriate debate. Many people however do find the idea of giving their Grandpa or wife a children's toy. It is insulting, inappropriate. Have you got anything to lose by giving it a go? If it feels uncomfortable try it when you are on your own together, guage their reaction. Try different things.


               Who am I?



I am a forty-something mother of two.

I love learning and creating, and do

what I can to improve the well-being

of people living with dementia.

I have worked in residential dementia

care for a few years and hope that I

have something useful to share.



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